Most Anticipated Game of 2013: Tomb Raider

Well the new year has rolled around, so to start things off I’m going to discuss the game that I am looking forward to the most in 2013. I’ll admit that this is a crowded category for me. There are many games to look forward to: Bioshock: Infinite, Beyond: Two Souls and the Last of Us. All of them look amazing, but  the one game I am looking forward to the most is the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. It barely beats out The Last of Us (which I think is a potential Game-of-the-Year). I’m not anticipating Tomb Raider solely based on its potential quality, the deciding factor is that the success of Tomb Raider is more important for the video games industry than the success of other games. It will show how the industry has or hasn’t changed, depending on its quality. While I would always prefer a new game to sequel or a reboot, Tomb Raider will provide an opportunity to look back on the last two decades and show how much the industry has grown and hopefully, how it will continue to grow.

Lara Croft is perhaps the most iconic and recognizable female character in video game history. She was a female protagonist in an era when lead characters were exclusively men. Mostly due to her famous pair of assets, Lara was the first video game character to reach the status of a sex symbol. It’s easy to scoff at this but it represents an shift in how people see video game characters. By becoming a sex symbol, Lara Croft raised herself above a mere assortment of pixels and into something that closer to an real person. It was obvious pandering, but the fact that it worked was important for video games. Lara’s popularity kept growing. In 2001, a film adaptation was made starring Angelina Jolie and while it wasn’t horrible it does share the dubious honor along with Resident Evil, of starting a trend video-game-movies. Despite this, Lara Croft is a significant figure in the history of the industry.

Lara in Tomb Raider: Legend, seven years before she discovered pants.

But all of this was over a decade ago, the industry has changed since then. Time has not been kind to Lara, which is why a new Tomb Raider game was announced in late 2010. It would ignore previous games, effectively rebooting the franchise. I’ll admit, I have not played a Tomb Raider game, so I can’t speak of the quality (or lack of quality) of the games themselves or the justification behind the reboot, but this isn’t  the first time the Tomb Raider franchise has been rebooted. Crystal Dynamics (who are making the new Tomb Raider game) took over the franchise and rebooted it with Tomb Raider: Legend in 2006. It received positive reviews and sold a few million copies. While I haven’t played Legend, I don’t need to play it  to see that even if Lara is well-written, and well characterized, when she looks the way she does in Legend, it’s clearly pandering to male audiences. Barbie-doll inspired proportions will always a personality, no matter how good it is. Even if Lara is a good role model for women, it’s completely irrelevant when the her most recognizable trait is her absurd breast size. In 1996 (the year of the original Tomb Raider game) it was enough to simply be a woman but after 17 years the industry has evolved, unless Lara wants to go the way of the Bandicoot she also needs to evolve.

The new Lara Croft is a departure from her old self. While the she is still a bit too attractive for someone in her profession, The removal of her most notable trait says something about the direction Crystal Dynamics plans to take. Being “a bit too attractive” will not overshadow a character if they are written well enough. There’s nothing wrong with sex appeal as long as there is more to a character than their appearance. How Lara is written and portrayed will reflect the maturity (or lack thereof) of the industry. If Lara Croft, a character,who for over ten years was mostly known for having big boobs, can be turned into a strong, developed, dependable woman, it will show how far the industry has come.

Crystal Dynamics proudly presents, the Hunger Games starring Lara Croft.

Lara’s characterization is not just important to me, but the rest of the industry cares just as much. The promotional material has focused on how Lara will grow over the course of the game. It has also proved to be a touchy subject among players. In June, Crystal Dynamics famously stated that “seeing people attempt to rape Lara will make player’s protective of her.” The reaction from the gaming community was about what you’d expect. Crystal Dynamics responded by making several statements attempting to retract their initial comment. This did little to calm the controversy. Things finally settled down after Eurogamer interviewed lead writer Rhianna Pratchett in November. While the controversy has long ended, it proved that players have strong feelings about the portrayal of women in video games.

The  industry desperately needs more strong, well-written female characters who are more than just pretty things to look at. Valve achieved this in 2004 with Alyx Vance. While she isn’t the lead character, Valve has been praised for depicting a woman who was, strong, charming, sensitive and resourceful. The new Lara Croft has the opportunity to improve upon this solid foundation, by doing everything Alyx Vance did, but additionally doing it as the lead character. Tomb Raider has a chance to finally deliver a female protagonist that players can take seriously.

Tomb Raider is scheduled to release on March 5th for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and the PC. Below is the newest trailer, first shown in December.

Let the Uncharted comparisons begin.

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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on January 3, 2013, in 2013, Best of and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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